"It was hard to motivate," Wigginton, a biology teacher, said. "It was hard to get them to a point where you know they cared."
Now, she says most students at Kennedy talk about which college they're going to attend instead of if they're going to attend. Kennedy High School's graduation rate jumped from 65 percent to 77 percent last year.
"It's a combination of the fact that we have great kids and we have great teachers," Wigginton said.
The U.S. Department of Education established a new formula for figuring graduation rates. It is focused on students who graduate "on time," meaning four years after entering ninth grade.
Overall, the state of Colorado graduates 72 percent of students on time. The statewide dropout rate dropped from 3.6 percent to 3.1 percent.
Chris Watney is the president of the Colorado Children's Campaign. Watney released a statement saying that the numbers are encouraging, but still troubling.
"Even with the progress to report, more than 13,000 students dropped out of school last year - a disproportionate number of them minority students - and that is too many," Watney said in a statement. "For the sake of our kids and our state's future economic prosperity, this is a problem we can't ignore."
Across Colorado, the highest graduation rates amongst the larger districts are Academy 20 in Colorado Springs at 89.5 percent and Littleton Public Schools at 87.2 percent.
If you want to see the complete list of school districts and their graduation rates, visit http://www.cde.state.co.us/cdereval/download/spreadsheet/2010Grads/2009_2010GradCompRatesbyRaceGenderDistrictlevel.xls.
Tom Boasberg is the superintendent of Denver Public Schools. Boasberg is pleased with the latest numbers for the district.
"Among the 16 largest districts in the state of Colorado, the Denver Public Schools is seeing the greatest increase this year, an increase of over 5 percent," Boasberg said.
However, with the district numbers growing from 46.4 percent to 51.8 percent, Boasberg knows the celebration needs to be measured.
"We clearly have a long way to go," Boasberg said. "Our graduation rate remains significantly below state averages."
Kennedy High School grew the most in DPS. Wigginton attributes that to a change in culture, the creation of a rigorous international baccalaureate program, and a school community that now believes in success.
"We're kind of a best kept secret," Wigginton said. "Eventually, the word is going to get out about what we're doing here and people will start to see the scores."
AJ Mack is a senior who almost left Kennedy High School during his sophomore year. He says he stayed because he realized that the school was changing fast.
"There's a real uplifting faculty here and I believe my teachers are able to help me as well as my fellow students," Mack said. "We take pride in everything we do."
Pride is something that Principal Jeannie Peppel wanted to instill in Kennedy students. She has also worked with Kennedy's feeder schools to make sure students are academically prepared to for high school.
"So, one of the things that we have focused extremely hard is the transition from kindergarten through grade 12," Peppel said. "The families - convincing them that the possibilities are endless - has been a tremendous part of our program."
It is a program that changed over the last 15 years.
"We want to be the school known for, you know you're going to have to work hard to get out of here, but we're going to get you in a good place for college," Wigginton said.
(KUSA-TV © 2011 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)